The opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix is typically one of the more fraught moments of any Formula One season; with drivers rusty from not having started a race for four months, a tight entry into the first corner and rookies mixed in with experienced rivals in the midfield, Albert Park’s first turn contains trapdoors and trip wires ready to ruin a driver’s start to their year.
“Everyone’s going to be keen down into turn one,” Daniel Ricciardo said on Saturday, working out where best to attack the first corner of the year from 12th on the grid. Thanks to a launch that was almost too good, Ricciardo didn’t even get there before his home race curse struck again.
For the past five years of his career, Red Bull gave Ricciardo wings; in his Renault debut on Sunday, the 29-year-old lost his within seconds of the lights going out to start the season. After being squeezed onto the trackside grass by a slow-starting Sergio Perez (Racing Point), he was forced to run over a service road at the pit lane exit. The impact launched his car briefly skywards, ripping off its front wing and forcing him to limp back to the pits for a replacement. Within seconds, a race that had been highly anticipated since Ricciardo dropped the bombshell last August that he’d be leaving Red Bull for Renault was effectively over.
With the right-hand side of his car heavily damaged from his wild ride across the grass, Ricciardo persevered for 30 laps before the team retired his car for precautionary reasons, with broken bargeboards on the right-hand side of his Renault reducing the downforce levels and causing excessive tyre wear.